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Fargo farrago

I just saw a video of the Coen brothers movie Fargo, which I hadn’t seen before. For those as far out of the loop as I am, it’s an odd sort of comedy about a wormy car salesman in Minneapolis who has money problems and decides to hire a couple of thugs to kidnap his wife in exchange for a new car and half the ransom. He tells the thugs the ransom is $80,000 but tells his moneybags father-in-law/employer it’s $1,000,000, planning to pocket the difference. Naturally everything goes wrong, 7 people (including his wife, his father-in-law and one of the thugs) get murdered, and the wormy car salesman gets dragged off in his undies kicking and screaming to prison.

That’s not much of a plot line for a comedy, and it’s a strange comedy. Most of the humor involves ethnic and regional stereotypes. All the characters, except the crooks and to some extent the father-in-law with his accountant sidekick, are a New Yorker’s fantasy of small-town Minnesotans: terminally simple-minded, at least on the surface, and effusively friendly, cheerful and nice. They all speak with mild Scandinavian accents. Even the nerdy total-social-failure Asian guy who makes a brief appearance as the heroine’s old flame says “oh ja” with a Swedish lilt. There are no blacks or Hispanics in the movie at all, even in background shots, presumably because their presence would complicate the setting. When the directors want a lowlife minority they bring in an American Indian.

With the central characters the stereotypes get wackier and tend to reverse themselves, rather in the manner of the old screwball comedies. The heroine is the police chief of Brainerd, Minnesota, pop. 13,178, seven months pregnant and married to a somewhat overweight baldheaded man who happens to be an aspiring artist (at the end his painting of a duck gets chosen as the design for a 3-cent stamp). Apart from the role reversal, both heroine and hubby are terminally nice and normal small-town upper midwesterners. Hubby fusses over pregnant wife’s eating, wife makes special stop after visiting scene of bloody triple murder to pick up nightcrawlers so hubby can go icefishing.

The heroine is the best thing about the movie. She’s simple-minded in many ways, with no comprehension of human evil or even everyday psychological weirdness and screwups. She refers to a bloody triple murder as “malfeasance,” and when the wormy car salesman suddenly goes zipping away in his car, because he doesn’t like the direction things are going, she’s shocked and horrified that he’s “fleeing an interview.” Genuinely puzzled, she asks the surviving thug, an evident psychopath, why he did it “for just a little bit of money. It’s not worth it. Don’t you see that? And it’s such a nice day …” .

Whatever her limitations, she’s one of the great screen cops. She’s levelheaded, absolutely unflappable, and effortlessly effective in dealing with every possible situation. She’s a living demonstration how far it’s possible to go doing what’s obviously correct when you don’t miss or fumble anything. Her single-handed invasion and conquest of the bad guys’ hideout is going a bit far for someone who’s so pregnant, but by that time we’re ready to believe anything. And she does it all without show. Other actresses when they do something intelligent under the cover of social convention mug for the camera to show how clever they know they’re being. Our heroine doesn’t. Her simplicity, to a large extent, means she’s for real.

The other characters were also quite good in their way, if more limited than the heroine. Naturally there were also things I didn’t like about the movie. Everything was very mannered. The photography was striking and interesting but tried too hard. Not letting us know the source of the car salesman’s money problems struck me as annoyingly arty. Also, this movie, like a lot of current entertainment, has something brutal and degraded about it. The murders as well as a couple of short sex scenes are made part of the comedy through a somewhat exaggerated quality (a cop gets shot in the head and blood spurts out, one thug feeds another into a wood chipper). It’s all physically possible, though, so it’s not denatured as violence and can’t be passed off as slapstick. It’s just horrible violence graphically depicted presented as funny because it’s surprising and out-of-the-ordinary. Also, the wife was represented as well-meaning but stupid and ridiculous. I can see why a filmmaker would not want us to work up too much sympathy for a character who’s going to spend most of the film bound and gagged and end up getting murdered. Still, I don’t think there’s anything comical about a ridiculous person who wriggles and squeals in an absurd way getting murdered.

Some thoughts and questions:

  • Is it easier to make a good movie on a small budget than a large one? It seems that limited means would focus your efforts and that might mean you end up with something more intelligent and coherent.
  • Why is entertainment so brutal today? Maybe it’s the same reason literary scholarship has become so political. Fine distinctions can be appreciated for what they are if you have a settled system that’s tied into some overarching reality that tells you where you are and what things amount to. When that’s absent everything becomes a matter of pure assertion and so ultimately of lust and violence.
  • Most humor is based on stereotypes of one sort or another. So a basic function of PC is to tell us what we’re allowed to laugh at. “Inappropriately directed laughter” really does make sense as a target of speech codes.


Having grown up and attended undergraduate school in the Midwest (though not in Minnesota), I don’t share the same view of the characters as you. There really are people like that, including the heroine and her husband (and lots of them). And yes, they all talk alike, with the same accents and same expressions (“You’re darn tootin’ ”, “You betcha.”).

And some of the dialogue captured perfectly the general anti-intellectual drift of the environment:

“What’d this guy look like anyway?”

“Oh, he was a little guy, kinda funny lookin’.”

“Uh-huh. In what way?”

“Just a general way.”

So what was comedic and stereotypical to you might have been nostalgia for me.

I did laugh at the Steve Buscemi character (Carl: “You f***** shot me!”), the embodiment of the nihilistic slimeball, for whom lethal violence is as good a medium of interpersonal communication as ordinary speech. It used to be that movie evil found more sinister and insinuating incarnations—Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, etc. Carl is the caricature of a sociopath.

As for entertainment being violent, Shakespeare is pretty violent, although he didn’t have the benefit of 9mm’s, wood chippers, and special effects. There is actually very little violence in the rural Midwest (although there are guns everywhere), so to that extent the movie is unrealistic, and suggests an alien invasion of some sort for which the locals are wholly unprepared. In actual fact, the locals in the upper Midwest are fully prepared; they aren’t quite so naive, and are highly distrustful of outsiders.

I don’t think violence per se is the point here. I think the striking thing about the violence in this movie is its casual, brutal, unmotivated character—its utter banality. This gratituous property distinguishes it from Shakespearean violence, which is rooted in commonly understood human passions: jealousy, vengeance, ambition. And, to this extent, the movie accurately captures that emasculated, nihilistic quality of modernity. As you say, there’s no overarching reality, no universal moral order, that provides any meaning or reference, even in the presence of brutal violence. In the end, it’s all emptiness.

As for regional or ethnic stereotypes, we could list movies that trafficked the best, or the worst, on these old reliables (such as “Inherit the Wind” or “Deliverance”), or movies that were surprising to audience expecatation.

The violence in movies like Braveheart or The Patriot always bothered me much less, than the violence in, say, Tarrentino’s Pulp Fiction. I think MD captures the reason.

While I’m ranting…..
I’m now real careful when selecting modern films to view. Life’s too short and why financially support cultural barbarism. Unfortunately, the libraries now seem to stock more pop-culture barbarism (al least on video) than actual educational materials on video.

Better to read a good book or go play with your kids.

This is incidental, but the over-the-top, in-your-face action of the modern, special effects flicks saturates my senses. Some recent examples include the film adaptations of Tolkein and Lewis.

…I think part of the problem with the Lewis and Tolkien adaptations was precisely their gigantic budgets. It is notable to me that, of the three “Rings” films, the first is by far the best. (I would actually go as far as to say it was the only one at all worth watching.) This is because of its lack of enormous battle scenes involving thousands of moving objects on screen. It was also done “on the cheap,” at least as compared with the other two. Most of the action is intimate and personal, and so has resonance for the viewer.

Of course, as Jim points out, that intimacy degenerates into a vice as soon as it is detached from any framework in which it can acquire meaning. It becomes visceral and senseless, and even viewing it feels very much like an act of grotesque indulgence.

Supernice posting. Eager to read more Turnabout entertainment reviews and musings.

As for one of the central questions here, the low-budget/high-budget one … An artist friend of mine put it nicely, let me see if I can recreate it …

Well, the thought is that the lower an art-form’s budget (and the fewer people involved), the more personal and handcrafted the work will tend to be. For better or worse, of course. But also the smaller its likely audience. Poetry’s an extreme example. You can make exactly what you want to make, and with zero interference. But you’re likely to be read by your wife and no one else.

The higher a culture-work’s budget, and the greater the number of people involved, the more impersonal and corporate the results will tend to be, but the bigger the potential audience is too. Again: for better and/or worse. A lot of poetry stinks, god knows, and a lot of Hollywood-studio movies are awfully good and have proven awfully enduring.

Part of the reason the Euro tradition (or an aspect of it, anyway) holds such fascination for a lot of people is that numerous Euro filmmakers make movies with the same kind of personal control that a novelist might have. Which can be great: You get the ease, accessibility and sensual power of movies (and also the fun of all that collaborative input: actors, designers, photographers, etc) crossed with the intensity and vision of made-by-one-person-style art.

The Coen Bros. are an interesting case because they’ve managed to make movies that aren’t inexpensive—they cost millions to make. But even so they’ve managed to make movies that feel personal—that have plenty of wrinkles and quirks, and even a p-o-v. A few American filmmakers manage that kind of career, lord only knows how. It’s nice when that happens.

My own perhaps excessively fond dream is that the new video and computer tools will make microbudget filmmaking accessible for many people. Tons of garbage will no doubt get made, but perhaps some great stuff too. I’m guessing it won’t be in the style of tradtional narrative filmmaking, though. Or most of it, anyway.

Another thought on the big budget/small budget point: If you can’t do things you want to do you have to rethink what you can get out of your resources and what it is you really want to do. In the arts that might end up a plus. Or so it would seem. A poet might be energized by the difficulty of a verse form. Why shouldn’t other difficulties have a similar effect?

There are even proverbs and aphorisms about this sort of thing:

Necessity is the mother of invention.

If you know how to be poor you know everything.

Wisdom comes through suffering.

Rem tene, verba sequentur. [Oops, that’s my tagline.]

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Agree completely. I’m not sure this holds for all artists, but certainly many of them find that their creative imaginations really kick in when they encounter constraints, limitations, etc. “How are we gonna put over what we want to put over given these limitations?” … And the ingenuity and invention get to work. Holds for formal limitations (rhythm and rhyme), genre demands (mysteries, crime), production-budget-type limitations, length and size constraints, etc. My own guess is that 99% of all artists are at their best when they’re obliged to make do, and that having-it-all is the kiss of death to real creativity 99% of the time. Nothing quite like a filmmaker who has all the resources he wants—the results are often sprawling and boring.

Actually it’s one of the reasons to be a little apprehensive about digital filmmaking. Traditional filmmaking pretty much obliged you to confront reality, because the images and sounds you capture were, to some extent, real. Even if you were shooting fantasy on a soundstage, the soundstage was still real. And there was only so much post-recording messing-around you could do. So the history of traditional filmmaking is largely about the encounter of the imagination with the facts of life.

But if you can, via the computers, monkey with your materials endlessly—changing a sunny day to overcast, painting in a crowd scene, etc—then … well, what are you encountering? Not necessarily anything at all. The facts of life can go hang themselves. So the adult or mature component of filmmaking goes out the window, and the adolescent-fantasizing part of filmmaking takes completely over. Meanwhile viewers detach from the screen, because everything up there has been so thoroughly processed it doesn’t resonate any longer.

I don’t think Shakespearean violence is really to the point because it’s indicated more than shown. The Greeks had good sense and in Greek drama quite horrible things could happen but off stage.

Head-on graphic depiction of violence and for that matter sex matters, because it’s disruptive and hard to work into a complex aesthetic experience. Even the possibility seems to change the rules so that artistry becomes harder to achieve. That’s what the state of the arts post-60s seems to suggest anyway. As in the case of film budgets, less is probably more.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

I’m not sure of your point about budgets with respect to Fargo. Are you suggesting Fargo had too big a budget?

Or, are you merely suggesting that, with a smaller budget, a filmmaker would be limited in special effects depicting violence and would therefore be forced to make his point in other ways.

No, Fargo had a small budget and I think it paid off. I had some complaints about the movie but it’s clearly much better than most. Maybe you’re right that if they couldn’t afford special effects it would have been still better.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Not sure if this applies to an “artsy” film like Fargo, but….

Simulated violence/sex (ok, not always simulated) seems to be just another consumer choice analogous to food products. And we seem to be living in gluttonous times. So just as each new food product must be over-the-top (if you don’t believe me check out the varieties of ice cream with various junk food bits thrown in) each new movie must be over-the-top graphic/brutal and more so than the last one.

I wonder what the constant, simulated violence will do to our children? I keep thinking of Roger and Piggy.

“We realize now that Hitlerism was not just an isolated aberration. It was an ominous sign of the times. It portended the present resurgence of the savage human nature that is breaking out, through the veneer of civilization all over the world today.” – Arnold Toynbee

The veneer’s wearing pretty thin, eh?

The Toynbee quote was a little over-the-top wrt Fargo, but I had some more recent movie trends (Fargo is over a decade old) in mind.

From listening to casual conversations in public and formal movie reviews (Ebert, Maltin) on radio, the current trend seems to be to make each movie more shockingly graphic than the last. The casual conversation seems to involve something like “Man! Did you see ________! It was even more messed up than ________! Or the (usually non-judgmental) movie reviewers asking things like “What do you do after seeing a movie like that ! Take a shower to wash the filth off !?” The troublesome thing is that it seems to be a part of large studio, mainstream films and not just underground cult films which indicates a sort of societal legitimacy. I’m also told that there’s now more simulated violence against children and even babies in some of the newer films (I don’t have any specific examples). Seen in this setting, the Toynbee quote’s not so over-the-top.

There is something particularly visceral and graphic that the video format captures that books cannot. And video makes it so much easier to feed it to both the children and the beer-swilling Bubbas. It’s so much more accessible than Shakespeare or Oedipus or whatever.

I suppose all this hasn’t resulted in an eruption of LOTF-type violence among our children. But I can’t help but think that this constant feeding on base culture is doing permanent damage. Or perhaps it’s more symptomatic.

Hopefully my uncontrolled ranting doesn’t distract from Mr. Kalb’s overarching and rather high-minded point contained in the second bullet of his thoughts and questions.

I’d be more impressed by this review if the reviewer had noticed that the “Chinese-American” character’s name was “Mike Yanagita”.

Took your correction and changed it to “Asian.” I wondered obscurely at the time why I didn’t catch the name.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

I would second somebody else’s comment that yes, there really are people like this. Which is why I didn’t perceive them as caricatures.

This film, as it seems to me, repeatedly contrasts two ways of living: a) the manifold ways of attempting to evade moral reality by taking shortcuts, living for instant gratification and telling lies, and b) the ostensibly boring but ultimately more satisfying way of recognizing the moral structure of the universe and attempting to conform yourself to it.

In the former category are outright criminals, hypocrites who outwardly attempt to conform but are willing to lie and cheat to get what they want, as William Macy’s character does, and more trivial variants of same such as Mike Yanagita.

In the latter are the sheriff and her husband and most of the other law-abiding characters.

The strength of the film is the way that it gradually reveals the power and even the simple grandeur of the second way of living one’s life, even though those who follow that way may seem to be boring or simple-minded. It’s easy to make fun of the accents and spoken cliches that such individuals have, and their utter lack of the hip irony that characterizes pop culture today. But the love they show for each other is a fine and noble thing.

On one level this is a simple morality play. The “winners” are profoundly non-Hollywood types, the kind of people in flyover country that Hollywood loves to make fun of. And yet theirs is the true nobility, which is quite a non-Hollywood kind of ending.

I still think all the Swedish “oh ja”s were over the top. Not to mention the enormously piled-high plates of food at the buffet.

I agree that a very important point of the film is that good really is better than bad. Still, it seemed positively to associate goodness with lack of imagination. It’s the issue of imagination and openness to the infinite that makes evil and for that matter “coolness” fascinate people. So the outcome seemed somewhat ambiguous. The good life the film presents is obviously much better than the bad life it presents but still seems intolerable.

In actual fact of course ordinarily good and even somewhat simple people do maintain a connection to the infinite, through religion. The film had no suggestion of that.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

I agree with both Seth and Mr. Kalb. At the risk of simplification, Seth captures the universal/ethical dimension of the religious and Mr. Kalb alludes to the mysterium tremendum—the “fear and trembling” aspect of the religious.

In one sense, Mr. Kalb reprises Nietzsche’s criticisms of the petit bourgeoisie—they’re boring, unaesthetic, plodding, unimaginative, and worst of all, satisfied. They lack the longing for and drive towards the absent God—they lack the modern consciousness.

Or, perhaps they have the good sense to respect their own limitations and observe traditional taboos—thou shall not tempt the Lord thy God.

I do agree with the implications of Mr. Kalb’s final paragraph, but is this an indictment of the film or merely the state of modern life, which is grounded in immediacy and the empirical. I don’t know how the film could have integrated a sense of the infinite into the film, and still remained more or less the same film—which, in one sense, I view as a description of the invasion of the demonic into the quotidian. I think this is one reason the film was depicted in the winter-time, rather than summer, because Minnesota is beautiful and abundant to the point of the infinite in high summer (discounting the mosquitoes); the filmmakers deliberately wished to exclude any such suggestions in favor of emphasizing the mundane.

Rather than invoking the God of Mt. Sinai, Marge confronted and defeated the demonic with good sense and simple goodness—which seems either an insult to the powers of the demonic or an affirmation of the normative power of the universal.

To this extent, the film affirms the ethic of bourgeois society, and avoids the complexity of the prophetic, which not only observes that virtue does not always triumph in this world but brings all normative systems under the judgment of God. It therefore avoids Christianity, which answers the frustrations and judgment of the prophetic tradition with the sacrifice and mercy of God. Therefore, there is no redemption or transcendence in the film—which I think leads Mr. Kalb to classify the film as a comedy.

Would anyone agree that many comedies are based on the premise of a confrontation of the demonic, the calculating, the evil, with the frustrating and conquering powers of naive innocence (the Marx brothers, Chaplin, Doris Day, Lucy)?

Agreed on the difference in emphasis between Seth and me. Also agreed that comedy usually has to do with the triumph of normal everyday goodness and common sense. The bad guys lose, the fools think better of their folly, and the nice healthy young people get married.

Maybe what makes this a very odd comedy is that the action takes place in a world in which normal everyday goodness and common sense is not well-established as a general system of things. To my mind that situation raises more ultimate questions than the movie would be able to deal with without (as MD notes) becoming something radically different. For that reason the movie is somewhat disquieting.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

The accents were over-the-top, but I think you should make allowances for the difference between intent and effect. As has been pointed here, and as the IMDB entry shows, the Coen Brothers do not reshoot scenes, which puts them in the company of Woody Allen and Ed Wood. To avoid being compared to the latter of the two, they micromanage stage directions before shooting, and that can cause their stylizations to go a little too far (though I think Fargo was far subtler than the Hudsucker Proxy or Raising Arizona.) I don’t think they wanted the movie to be a Minnesota minstrel show. I really doubt they would want to muscle in on the Prairie Home Companion’s turf.

I thought Fargo was a deep, even brilliant, movie, and your review did not completely do it justice. (For one thing, I don’t think it was a comedy, unless one simply means the classical definition of having a happy ending). I’m not sure one can simply say that the “good” people in the movie are unimaginative—the heroine’s husband, for example, is an artist. Certainly the imaginative horizon of the “bad” people is even more limited. It is charged only by greed of various sorts. As another commenter said, there is an extent to which this flat, uninflected culture really is typical of some areas of the rural Midwest. As you may know, the film was based on a true story.

The stylized quality to the movie is typical of the Coen brothers, and my biggest problem with their movies. I thought this was one of the few movies where that style completely worked.

The violence in the movie harked back to a long tradition of depicting nihilistic violence in American art. E.g. of the “great” western outlaws seem to have been these sorts of nihilistic sociopaths (e.g. Billy the Kid). There is Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood”, Mailer’s “The Executioners Song”, both of which depicted the collision between this kind of violence and good people, and Terence Malick’s excellent movie Badlands, which I think influenced Fargo. All of this has something to do with the general rootless, drifting quality of American life, especially male life.

I have no problem with realistic violence when it is inherent to the nature of the plot and serves to illustrate the theme instead of just juicing up the viewer. (Goodfellas was another movie where this was true). If anything I have more of an issue with cartoonish stuff that depicts massive levels of violence as free of consequence and pain. That kind of thing IMO helped lay the groundwork for Iraq.

I agree I didn’t give the movie all possible praise but only particular impressions.

I would still call the movie a comedy, although as I said a very odd one, and not just because it had a happy ending. The “oh ja”s along with various other bits were plainly meant to be funny. The violence wasn’t exactly realistic but somewhat heightened. The effect was to distance one from it and make it seem not altogether serious but part of a presentation that wasn’t really happening. Did it really make sense for the one bad guy to feed the other into a chipper? Would the parking lot attendant have been quite so blood-bespattered? Didn’t the blood on Steve Buscemi’s face actually make him funny-looking just like everybody said?

I suppose it was part of the tendency toward stylization. Maybe it was the combination of stylized treatment with all the comic touches and happy ending that makes me classify it however ambiguously as a sort of comedy. I’m not sure what else to call it.

Mr. Cop’s artistry also seemed somehow ambiguous. The guy we see, certainly a good guy but the opposite of exciting, goes icefishing and paints ducks, and one of the ducks ends up on a 3 cent stamp. That’s certainly an achievement, but is it really a way out of the quotidian? Maybe it is, because anything done very well takes you out of the merely everyday, or maybe it isn’t, and the point is that this is the Minnesota version of the aspiring artist finally getting recognized.

I’m not sure that what you say about psychopathic violence is so different from what I and others here have said about it. It’s less a comment on the particular film than the culture as a whole. I suppose my chief comment on the violence in the film is that the stylization makes its meaning like so much else in the film ambiguous. Is it there to tell a story that touches on something important or is it there as part of a piece of entertainment? (Incidentally, the film wasn’t really based on a true story.)

I’ll stop before I say “ambiguous” again. Thanks for the comments!

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

I saw this movie around the same time as “Pulp Fiction” and thought of it as the anti-Pulp Fiction. In “Pulp Fiction” the hoods were in some way cool, lovable, larger than life, or super-smart. In “Fargo” they were incompetent, homely, pointlessly violent, tiresome, stupid, and overall losers. Fargo is pretty realistic. PF was a fantasy movie for people with extremely boring lives who stupidly admire criminals.

The violence and blood were necessary. First, the things that were done were cruel and evil. You have to show that vividly. And furthermore, in order to be the anti-“Pulp Fiction”, you have to have overlap.

The Coen brothers have said that they can only do movies because they’re cheap and work very efficiently. They do this by planning every tiny detail before the shooting starts. This probably has something to do with the stylization.

I live in the area and the caricatures aren’t extreme. People here do talk that way. I think that the Coen brothers were setting a sharp contrast between coolness and decency. It’s very hard for a lot of people to feel much sympathy, much less admiration, for uncool people, to the point that someone like Truman Capote made his murderers seem cool (even though they weren’t) while caricaturing the victims. (William Stafford wrote a poem about Capote’s book which I can’t find now, something like “The real murderer was elsewhere”). To me the non-criminals mostly seemed familiar and hardly contemptible (granted that the two prostitutes and the mentally-ill Japanese-American guy were not supposed to be normal people.)

But the blood and gore weren’t really an expression of the cruelty of violence, at least not in any direct way. The law-abiding characters we know something about, the wife and the father-in-law, died bloodlessly to all appearances. The Steve Buscemi murderer’s death on the other hand was comical, represented by a foot sticking out of a chipper and an over-the-top pile of gore.

I agree that an important point in the movie was that the totally uncool people who talked funny and were into laughable stuff like nightcrawlers in closeup were actually unquestionably quite admirable not only morally but from the standpoint of life competence. In the context of 90s movie making that point might well have trumped everything else. I’m out of it though as far as even slightly recent movies go. (Not that that makes me as admirable as Marge Gunderson.)

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Fargo is usually described as a “black comedy” implying that the dark side of human nature is an object of humor. Maltin describes it as “a totally disarming comedy.” This genre (black comedy) is now reasonably common albeit in baser forms than Fargo.

Mr. Kalb found the film ambiguous. How accessible is the “deep” quality of Fargo to the average viewer whose discernment is, let’s say, 100 times less than Mr. Kalb’s?

Obviously, that’s not a filmaker’s concern.

“Why is entertainment so brutal today? Maybe it’s the same reason literary scholarship has become so political. Fine distinctions can be appreciated for what they are if you have a settled system that’s tied into some overarching reality that tells you where you are and what things amount to. When that’s absent everything becomes a matter of pure assertion and so ultimately of lust and violence.”

I agree. The collapse of what I call the Old-Fashioned Western Ideal after 1950 does cause culture to decay somewhat. It raises my point on an old post that thought is possible without religion and moral values, just that it’s not very pleasant.

I guess on some gut level it just bugs me that in order to gain insight into the value or meaning of the film, we have to analyze it in the context of 90s movie making or contrast it with something like Pulp Fiction (the most wretched thing I’ve ever seen).

Yes, the Greek tragedies had incest and violence. Again, the video format is so much more accessible to the indiscriminant viewer in such a visceral way. A “deep” movie like Fargo is typically played on cable TV sandwiched between the typical lowbrow offerings of action flicks featuring stuff blowing up and comedies featuring 40-year-old men acting like buffoons.

Our recent ancestors weren’t as deep as we are. Their understanding of the world was based more on intuition and common sense.